Researchers now believe that low-grade inflammation is associated with most chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and cancer. This is not an entirely new theory. Holistic practitioners have long recognised the connection between unhealthy lifestyle choices, inflammation and chronic conditions.
An inflammatory response can also occur when the immune system goes into action without an injury or infection to fight. Since there’s nothing to heal, the immune system cells that normally protect us begin to destroy healthy arteries, organs and joints.
‘Inflammation is the cornerstone of the body’s healing response and we all know it on the surface of the body. It’s local heat, redness, swelling and pain - that's the way the body gets more nourishment and more immune activity to an area that is injured and under attack. But inflammation is so powerful that it is very important that it stays where it’s supposed to stay and end when it is supposed to end. If it persists, if it serves no purpose, it becomes productive of disease. It destroys tissue, it causes damage.’ Says Dr Andrew Weil MD
Besides stress and environmental toxins, the major culprit of chronic inflammation is unhealthy eating. That's the bad news. The good news is that you can do something about it. By following a few basic rules you can improve your eating, daily habits and environment to help reduce your risk of chronic inflammation.
‘Inflammation is influenced by genetics, it’s influenced strongly by nutritional factors, it’s influenced by toxins that we are exposed to in the environment, it’s influenced by stress and emotional states - so a lot of that is under your control. And to me one of the key points of healthy aging is adopting and constructing an anti inflammatory lifestyle’. (Dr Andrew Weil MD)
Eating to reduce inflammation is not one-size-fits-all. Different people will do it in different ways. One of the most researched examples of an anti-inflammatory way of eating is the traditional Mediterranean diet, which is a dietary pattern inspired by some countries of the Mediterranean basin. People that more closely eat a Mediterranean-like diet have consistently lower levels of inflammation compared to other less healthy ways of eating.
In general, the Mediterranean Diet is a plant-based pattern (though not exclusively), rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain cereals, and legumes. It emphasises nuts, seeds, and olive oil as sources of fat and includes moderate consumption of fish and shellfish, white meat, eggs, and fermented dairy products (cheese and yogurt), and relatively small amounts of sweets and red meat. It is likely that the diet as a whole rather than individual components, leads to good results. The various components act together to reduce inflammation and produce favourable effects in the body. Learn more about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet here.
Of course on the other side of eating anti-inflammatory foods, is limiting or avoiding inflammatory foods which include groups like sugar and high fructose corn syrup, artificial trans fats, refined carbohydrates, excessive alcohol, red and processed meats and omega sixes (found in refined oils from seeds such as canola, safflower, sunflower peanut, and corn oils).
Other foods that can trigger an inflammatory response in many people are dairy, wheat, eggs, artificial flavour and colours (aspartame and FD&C dyes).
Exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation and people who get regular physical activity have lower levels of inflammation. General recommendations for activity include:
Many factors contribute to the balance of inflammation in the body. Some research suggests that maintaining a healthy weight may be important for keeping inflammation under control. People who are overweight or obese, or who have extra weight in the abdominal area have increased risk for more inflammation. Fat cells (known as adipocytes), especially ones located in the belly area, produce and secrete compounds that can contribute to inflammation. Fortunately, even modest weight loss of 10% of body weight can help to reduce inflammation. Following a healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet or the Anti-Inflammatory way of eating, along with adequate exercise and good quality sleep mentioned in this article are a good starting points toward achieving a healthy weight.
Sleep is one of the most important things people need to keep their minds and bodies healthy. It is the time when our bodies go into rest, repair and rejuvenation.
People that do not get enough sleep or have frequent disrupted and poor quality sleep are more likely to have greater inflammation along with health problems like type 2 diabetes and weight gain. Sleep helps tissues in the body heal, grow, and repair and also helps the body make the right levels of important hormones.
Stress is a natural part of life and can change over the course of our lives. If stress gets overwhelming or if there are moderate on-going stresses that are not relieved, the body can lose its ability to healthfully respond, causing increased inflammation which can harm our health. The good news is that the ability to manage stress can be developed.
All of the strategies already mentioned — eating a healthy diet, being active, and getting enough sleep — help support the body’s ability to manage life’s stresses. There are also additional strategies that may be helpful, including mind-body approaches like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), meditation, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), biofeedback, breathing exercises, yoga, and tai chi.
In short, both smoking and alcohol introduce toxins to the body that create an inflammatory response. Chronic consumption of alcohol and nicotine over time creates chronic inflammation in the body.
Environmental toxins can be found in beauty products, household cleaners, carpets, furniture, mattresses, in meat and veggies, in our water system, and simply in the air we breathe. They can enter our body through our skin, through the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.
Chemicals that are around us on a daily basis can have serious negative health effects by causing inflammation in our body. Certain substances can trigger the immune neurovascular system to initiate disease. Chronic inflammatory diseases of unknown cause can often be a sign of environmental sensitivity overload.
Many conditions are now being linked to environmental exposure such as cancer, respiratory diseases (asthma) and allergies, neurological diseases (Parkinson disease and multiple sclerosis), endocrine problems (thyroid), diabetes and obesity.
From pesticides found in our food and contaminants in our water sources to outdoor air pollution by vehicles, power generators, building heating systems, agriculture / waste, and industry - it is safe to say that our bodies have a lot to navigate and detoxify on any given day, just by being out in the world.
But air pollution can also happen indoors - inside our own homes. Popular sources of toxins in our homes are household cleaning products, paints, laundry detergents, insecticides, tobacco smoke and perfumes. Indoor air pollution is associated with dose-dependent inflammation and serious negative health effects, and, according to the World Health Organisation, it is responsible for about 4.3 milliondeaths globally each year.
But the good news is that your home is the one environment YOU CAN control. And it doesn’t have to cost you the earth to clean up the air in your home.
Department of Family Medicine and Community Health (www.fammed.wisc.edu/integrative/)
US Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/)
Toronto Public Library Health & Wellness (https://torontopubliclibrary.typepad.com/health-and-wellness)
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Simply put, this term describes the amount of toxins in your body that you are unable to get rid of. What is left is called “toxic burden” or “toxic overload”. Too many toxins in your body at once will overload your system, and can lead to increased inflammation and oxidative stress if you don't reduce your exposure.
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